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Draft Profile: Michigan EDGE David Ojabo has the speed to succeed

After being injured at his pro day, Ojabo may not be a Week 1 NFL starter. But he has the tools to be a dominant player.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Georgia at Michigan Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas from April 28-30, we’re taking a look at some of the players the team could be targeting with their nine 12 draft picks: Round 1 (29 and 30), Round 2 (50 and 62), Round 3 (94 and 103), Round 4 (121 and 135) and Round 7 (233, 243, 251 and 259).

Let’s consider Michigan EDGE David Ojabo.


Background

Football is a complex sport that takes years to master. But after only a short time in the game, University of Michigan outside linebacker David Ojabo has been able to make major strides.

Born in Nigeria, Ojabo grew up in Scotland. When his family moved to New Jersey, Ojabo enrolled in Blair Academy, which is a private school located in Blairstown. He played basketball and soccer before joining the tradition-rich football program, where he found his place at defensive end.

His relationship with the Baltimore Ravens’ second-year edge rusher Odafe Oweh is what generated the idea to test his mettle on the gridiron. The two became close while both were attending Blair. Oweh’s success on the field led to a Penn State scholarship, which originally motivated Ojabo to join the football team. By the end of his prep career, Ojabo had racked up multiple postseason awards of his own — and was rated as a four-star recruit on most recruiting platforms.

Holding offers from Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State and many more, Ojabo chose to play for the Michigan Wolverines under head coach Jim Harbaugh. Even though he never logged a snap during his freshman season, he made an immediate impact: earning the team’s Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year award.

After earning increased playing time in 2020’s shortened Big 10 season, Ojabo gained plenty of attention during his 2021 campaign, recording his first collegiate sack against the Washington Huskies in the season’s second game. He finished the season with 11 sacks, 35 tackles (12 for loss) and five forced fumbles — a Michigan single-season record.

Ojabo had a solid performance at the NFL Combine, turning in a 4.55 second 40-yard-dash among other impressive measurements. But during his Michigan Pro Day workout, he suffered a heart-wrenching injury that turned out to be a torn Achilles tendon, which has been reported to be comparable to the one sustained by Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers last season. Akers made a full return in six months.

Prior to his injury, Ojabo was widely considered to be a top-20 draft pick. Now, however, it is unclear where he could land. Still, I don’t anticipate him lasting beyond Round 2 — so if the Chiefs would like to take him, it would most likely require one of their two first-round picks.

College film evaluation

Looking at Ojabo’s film, it doesn’t take long to figure out where No. 55 is.

On this play, we see him dipping his shoulder underneath the left tackle, giving him nothing to block. His natural bend (and lean) is impressive, allowing him to get this sack against Wisconsin.

Here against Penn State, he is able to speed rush and rip through the block as he runs the hoop and bends his way into the quarterback, where his active hands knock the ball loose. He does a great job of engaging the blocker, creating penetration and forcing him to turn his hips. Ojabo then identifies the quarterback’s level and finishes the play with a turnover.

Ojabo can also be disruptive in the running game.

On this play near the goal line, he does a nice job squeezing down on the hole so the ball carrier can’t cut on the back side. He gets his head to the inside of the tight end’s helmet, giving him the necessary leverage to make the play — doing his part to prevent a score.

But with Ojabo, it is not all sunshine and roses. Given his lack of experience, there are bound to be areas where he can improve. It is crucial that he develops a way to fend off pulls and traps; he’s consistently had struggles while trying to do so.

Here we see the Nittany Lions’ H-back get Ojabo down on his back with a simple slice block. While this is an extreme example, there are multiple instances where Ojabo simply anchors down to absorb a blow — which isn’t always enough.

Here we see just how fast Ojabo can play. In this clip, his closing speed is quite evident, forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away before he is sacked.

Following his injury, it is hard to say when Ojabo will be back to full speed — but when he does, his natural speed will give him a big advantage.

How he fits with the Chiefs

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has a track record of preferring bigger defensive ends to use in his base 4-3 scheme. At 6 foot 4 and 250 pounds, Ojabo’s size shouldn’t be an issue. On most occasions, he is able to convert his speed to power. While he is still raw, you can see him still processing what is happening around him — rather than simply reacting. Still, his athleticism has allowed him to play at a high level while learning the game live on Saturday afternoons.

Kansas City has restructured Frank Clark’s contract — but so far, has not made any other significant moves at defensive end. While there have been reports that linked certain big-name free agents like Za’Darius Smith to the Chiefs, nothing has panned out thus far — although San Francisco 49ers pass rusher Arden Key was reported to have met with the team on Friday, which could lead to a contract.

The Chiefs need pass-rushing help. With no free-agency moves so far, it’s logical to think that the draft will be where the issue is addressed. Even with his injury, Ojabo has a bright future. It is only a matter of time until he will be able to strap on the pads and return to his upward trajectory.

With this player, there is plenty of talented clay that can be molded. Given the glimpses of greatness we have seen from Ojabo, I am ready to take a chance on the kid — hoping that the Chiefs will be able to make him the face of their pass rush.